Six weeks after the Six Day War a U.S. – U.S.S.R. resolution concerning the peace was rejected by the Arabs, thus saving Israel from a political disaster potentially undoing the military victory.
Israel’s immediate post-war euphoria may well have contributed to the near disaster. It produced a Cabinet June 19 position furnished to the U.S., giving the Sinai to Egypt, most of the Golan to Syria and leaving West Bank issues to be negotiated.
Friday, July 20,1967 found Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban in “one of the most embarrassing discussions that ever took place between the United States and Israel” when Arthur Goldberg, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., revealed the draft resolution he and Gromyko had agreed on. [All Abba Eban quotations are from his 1992 book “Personal Witness”]. All parties were to immediately withdraw their forces from territory occupied after June 4 and were to immediately acknowledge their right to maintain an independent national state and to live in peace and security.
Eban “vehemently” objected that this would give up all the positive results to date since “withdrawal of our forces was no longer to be conducted in peace with secure boundaries”. The word “Israel” was not in the draft, “the Arab states would have no difficulty in making a general statement and then claiming its inapplicability to Israel”. It was “Kosygin’s call for unconditional withdrawal against which the U.S. and Israel had battled successfully in the United Nations…. It was a terrifying moment for me when all of the gains of the June and July sessions appeared to be slipping away, not as a result of enemy pressure, but as a consequence of an American ambition to achieve an accord with Russia.”
The Gromyko-Goldberg draft was the Soviet formula minus provisions for Israeli war reparations to the Arab states and condemnation of Israel, a compromise Secretary of State Dean Rusk, a few days before, characterized as trading “a horse for a rabbit”. The horse was Israeli withdrawal and the rabbit what Israel would receive.
As Eban’s meeting with Goldberg was about to end in an “indignant departure”, Goldberg received the message that Egypt and Libya would not accept a resolution acknowledging the rights of all the states in the area.
While the Arab rejection of the proposed agreement was publicized, Israel’s severe negative reaction was not reported. AIPAC’s Near East Report (July 25,1967) had good coverage of the episode but reported not so much as a hint of Israel’s unequivocal dislike of the resolution.
The 1968 American Jewish Yearbook reported in the same vein, adding that the “episode was to have one positive result: it demonstrated to Moscow that Washington did not intend to humiliate it… but would support any constructive move to achieve a just peace in the Middle East.” Because the Arabs rejected the proposal, it was not introduced. To give it and its rejection status, on August 30 Goldberg sent a letter to U.N.General Secretary U Thant advising that “while the U.S.S.R. was still saying harsh words about us in public, [it] joined with us for an acceptable resolution… the readiness of the Soviet Union to propose it for favorable consideration by the Arab states was a very significant step though it was rejected.”
Although the U.S. severely compromised itself in the joint proposal,the subsequent record does not suggest any amelioration of the Soviet’s hard line in response.
Why the U.S. acceptance of a “horse for a rabbit” at Israel’s expense? Why the continued Arab belligerency which preceded the war? Ironically, a key factor may have been Israel’s euphoria inspired June 19 peace setting terms volunteering to give up much of its win: Syria would obtain the Golan to its international boundary and Egypt would recover Sinai; both subject to demilitarization. West Bank issues would be negotiated. On June 22 Eban presented Israel’s proposal to Secretary Rusk who was pleased that Israel had formulated it without external pressure. Rusk promptly made it available to Egypt and Syria.
Also, the U.S. was optimistic about the U.S.S.R. and the Arabs. Both Israel and the U.S. underestimated Egypt’s basic attitude. In his July 23 address at the 15th anniversary celebration of the Egyptian Revolution President Nasser charged that the Zionists and the big powers sought to “crush the Arab revolution, to do away with Arab aspirations and to place our countries within the sphere of their influence.” On November 25,1967 he told his generals: “don’t pay any attention to anything I may say in public about a peaceful solution.”
Eban says the September 1,1967 Khartoum declaration providing for Israel no peace, no recognition, no negotiation, and no territorial bargaining was a “direct answer” to Israel’s offer which Rusk had conveyed to Egypt and Syria. Still, Eban would find a domestic benefit in Israel’s June 19 proposal seeing it as answering “Israeli liberals who fault the Eshkol government with insufficient zeal for peace.” But that consideration had little impact since the proposal was kept “secret”. There was no news coverage. Yitzhak Rabin first learned of it in 1968 from some Americans when he was ambassador.
Paradoxically, Israel’s generous proposal may well have figured importantly in the willingness of the U.S. to accept the “horse for rabbit” exchange at the expense of Israel. Also, it signaled the Arabs that Israel was voluntarily ready to give up more than all the parties had expected — a sign of weakness to be exploited. Peace making must be realistic, not euphoria-based.
Dr. Joseph Lerner, Co-Director
I.M.R.A. (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
P.O. Box 982, Kfar Sava
Tel (+972-9) 760-4719, Fax (+972-9) 741-1645
Dr. Lerner, a leading economist, was a senior US government official from 1952 until 1976. Dr Lerner relocated to Jerusalem in 1986.